I AM looking forward to meeting South Thanet’s Russ Timpson for two reasons. Firstly, the man has a sense of humour (not always a given in political circles) – when I wrote a column expressing my view that the Liberal Democrats didn’t have much chance of getting in, he sent an e-mail with the subject “Hope in Hell”.
And secondly, he used to be a fireman. I do like a man in uniform. Sadly, he is wearing sporty casuals when we meet at the Albion Hotel in Broadstairs, although in compensation, there is a slight suggestion of Daniel Craig about him. After we have run through the problems for the young – they feel disenfranchised and will never be able to afford to buy a house in the way we could – and the need, more then ever before, for everybody in Thanet to get out and vote, I tell him he is taller and more impressive than he appeared at the recent hustings I went to (an event so dull and tedious I thought I might faint with boredom). He smiles. And I get down to business. If he is elected, what will he do for Thanet? He has, he tells me, got a ten-point plan. One of the plans has a sub-plan of another ten points. I am afraid I might start to feel light-headed again but actually this is the one about Manston, a subject close to my heart, so I perk up. Every day is a school day, as my esteemed colleague Mike Pearce is fond of saying (he will be back soon, if you’re fretting) and today I learn what happens to disused aircraft. In the old days they were dumped in the desert, which has now been proved to be “environmentally unsound” (there is depleted uranium in the rudder assemblies and engine bearings) but now they have to be properly recycled. And, Russ declares, although there are 11,000 wide-bodied aircraft coming to the end of their lives in the next three years, there isn’t a purpose-built facility in the world where an aircraft can fly in and be safely dismantled.
This is where Manston could come in. “It could be a massive business.” I am keener to get flights to Spain, I tell him. What about a weekly passenger service? He humours me. “Yes all right but the point is if I’ve got an aviation apprentice college, what better way to learn my trade as an apprentice than dismantling aircraft?” Russ fears if Manston isn’t utilised it will be built all over. We agree this is not good. “We don’t have enough water, roads, GPs, hospitals, schools… It’s not sustainable.” I peer at other things on the list, trying to divert him from going through them one by one. “We’ve got to reopen Ramsgate Harbour,” he says. “We must have a new service to Oostende.” I like this. He talks about Thanet’s “fantastic coastline.” He wants to promote it as a tourist destination, and concentrate on its history. “This is the landing point of Christianity; Saint Augustine, the Romans. We’ve got Huguenots, the Vikings…. More recently we’ve got Dickens…” I can feel my concentration fading once more so I push him on through fracking and wages to high-speed rail. Here he has an excellent idea. A scheme where instead of only being able to buy a weekly, monthly or annual season you can buy twenty tickets at a discount and use them as it suits you throughout the year. This is clever and I would do it. “But what about a booze trolley?” I ask, expanding on the problems of running out of time to nip into M&S at St Pancras. He laughs. “A mini-bar next to each seat?”
He gets serious again to finish: Acknowledging that there are people who have already made their minds up, he still appeals to them to read the manifestos when they come out. “This is a job interview. Judge the individuals on their ability to represent Thanet. That’s all I’m asking.”
Verdict: Ordinary-bloke-type decent family guy with heart in right place and ideas aplenty. For more info see http://www.libdems. org.uk/russ_timpson
RUSS’S counterpart over in North Thanet, George Cunningham, is the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats vice-chair with a bio as long as your arm, which he urged me to familiarise myself with. “I’ve had an exciting life.” He certainly seems to have got about a bit. The multilingual ex Army officer – “58 years young, raring to go” – has been involved in politics since 1979 and walked across Africa. He was in Brussels when I met Russ, so we spoke on the phone. What was he going to do for Thanet? I enquired, talking rapidly, as I was calling his Belgian mobile (we hacks aren’t made of money). George will “get the place back up on its feet after over 30 years of the current MP’s inability to improve Thanet’s position at the bottom of Kent’s deprivation league table.” He wants to see the area (don’t we all!) as “modern, self-confident, international, prosperous, punching above its weight in Kent and in Britain.”
When I enquired how he might achieve this, he provided a long – and approaching mind-numbingly detailed – explanation about European funding. And echoed his South Thanet colleague’s visions of high-speed rail and sea connections and a “fully restored” Manston airport.
“I have a wide experience of life. I am an achiever.”
His vision is to “interconnect” and upgrade Thanet to build on the potential for tourism. “People who vote for me vote for a more modern way for Thanet” Has he got a hope, considering how long the current incumbent, Roger Gale, has been in position? He has been at a recent hustings with Sir Roger, who apparently stated: “I’m going to give you more of the same”. George wants to give “much more than that”, he tells me. “I want to give Thanet an exciting future”
Verdict: Lots of European experience – seems to know his way round the block…
Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Liberal-Democrats/story-26200836-detail/story.html#ixzz3V90PQUAF